Spread throughout the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is the bulk of this state’s wine region, the fourth largest in the United States.
Wagner Valley Brewing Co. has stood on the eastern edge of Keuka Lake since 1995, when Bill Wagner, a third-generation grape grower, realized that what he needed after a day in the vineyards was a cold beer.
There’s also a winery on the same property, the first vines planted by hand by Wagner in the 1960s.
Because of its location, Wagner is often the perfect stopping point for the end of the day, said brewer Dean Jones. Many visitors come for a late lunch and stay on the deck for the rest of the day, eventually watching the sun set over the lake.
There’s not one favorite beer here, but it’s a three-way tie: the IPA, Sled Dog Doppelbock and Dockside Amber Lager, although the IPA wins in the summer months.
In the fall and winter, heavier beers are added, such as Strong Scotch Ale and Coffee Porter. And last summer Jones decided to take advantage of his position in wine country, and made a Champagne Wit―Riesling champagne mixed with Belgian white beer (which provides some sourness). “It was a light beer that was less than 20 percent champagne, and wine drinkers love it,” he said.
On the west side of Keuka Lake is Keuka Brewing Co., in the middle of a stretch of six wineries, which brings in a lot of business, said owner Richard Musso. “We’re a great diversion for the wine drinkers and a bit of a respite for those who don’t drink wine.”
The wheat beers are the most popular here, especially White Cap Wheat, a blend of wheat and barley that’s lightly hopped with Tettnanger, and further seasoned with orange peel and coriander.
But there are seven beers on tap, and the Full Sail Stout, a blend of five malts with smoke, coffee and chocolate flavors, also does very well. Next up will be some seasonal beers.
“Our beers have a fuller flavor than commercial beers,” said Musso. “We tried to keep that home-brewed taste.”
Keuka Brewing is open for tastings noon to 5 p.m. for weekends and extended weekends.
Whether you are a beer drinker or a wine drinker, you can’t go wrong in wine country. Those who have been drawn to the region for the wineries typically have the refined palate that can also appreciate a fine beer, crafted with great ingredients.
Beer is also a great way to relax after a day of tasting wine, which can be high-maintenance work of swilling, comparing and analyzing. Sitting at a bar with a simple brew, served by a laid-back bartender, and often with a great view just through a window, can be quite the antidote to a hard day’s wine drinking.